Manhattan of La Jolla
Posted on March 10, 2017
Few San Diego restaurants are built to last. Today’s dining public can be a fickle lot. Current foodie culture dictates eateries from white-linen hotspots to coffee shop mainstays follow every fad that comes along and continually renovate simply to maintain a respectable level of patronage. This makes it all the more commendable when stalwarts like Manhattan of La Jolla stick to their guns. Like the singer whose name graces the classic Steak Sinatra entrée on Manhattan’s menu, this venerable Italian spot has insisted on doing it their way for three decades.
Even after a semi-recent refresh, the restaurant, located on the ground floor of The Jewel’s Empress Hotel, delights with old-school charm and the great things folks used to look forward to when dining out. There’s a bar serving stiff drinks, live piano music Wednesday through Saturday, dim lighting, and plenty of brick — not faux brick — and certainly no trace of reclaimed wood or metal.
From the first step into the restaurant, customers feel recognized and valued. Everyone including the host who escorts diners to their cloth-lined table, the delightfully conversational and attentive wait-staff, and the watchful founding owner, knows how to take care of people. Ditto for those preparing Manhattan’s take on a Caesar salad tableside. Deft hands paddle together plates of Romaine with dressing (lent acidity via balsamic vinegar versus lemon juice) which teem with garlic and more Parmesan cheese than should be legal.
Manhattan of La Jolla takes the guesswork out of selecting appetizers. They arrange three of their self-proclaimed best — lobster ravioli, cannelloni, and shrimp scampi — onto a single plate. Each is so retro it makes you wonder why they haven’t become the next fad. The cannelloni, stuffed with a homogenous mixture of nicely seasoned beef, veal, and spinach, is renaissance-worthy; the scampi is perfectly cooked and napped with a light sauce that’s rich with fruity white wine character.
Familiar pasta preparations — Pomodoro, Primavera, Bolognese, and Alfredo along with gnocchi huddled under a thick blanket of mozzarella cheese — round out the primi course offerings. The gnocchi sports the same tomato sauce as the cannelloni, and makes for a great side dish for hearty secondi fare. The lemon- and garlic-mounted veal chop Fiorentina is a Zagat award-winner, but diners can order it several other ways including Oscar-style, topped with plump lump crabmeat and creamy béarnaise. Timeless veal preparations — Marsala, Piccatta, Milanese, Parmigiana — salt and pepper the menu, along with sturdy steak choices that all hark back to a simpler time.
The dessert list is one of the longest in town. It’s studded with delights like house-made cannoli and tiramisu, plus a take on Bananas Foster dubbed PJ’s Banana Royale that subs Italian hazelnut liqueur for the original rum and crème de banane. It’s another example of Manhattan doing it their way, and their way is praise-worthy, indeed. 858.459.0700, manhattanoflajolla.com Brandon Hernández
Photography by Vincent Knakal